Remembering the past and imagining the future: age-related differences between young, young-old and old-old
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Background and aims
Few studies have analyzed the ability to remember past events and imagine future events in older adults. The present study examines age-related differences between young, young-old, and old-old adults in creating mental images of autobiographic episodes from the past and from the future.
Cue words were presented, and for each of these, participants had to remember an autobiographic past event or imagine a future event. Performance was analyzed in terms of type of autobiographical images created (specific or general) and their vividness. Moreover, individual differences in temporal perspective were analyzed as a mediator of performance.
Old-old adults produced less specific, but more general events compared to young adults and young-old in the future condition. Moreover, only old-old produced more general images in the future than in the past. In contrast, young-old showed intermediate performance, more similar to that of young adults for both specific and autobiographical images. A similar pattern was found with regard to vividness of images produced. Regression analyses showed that the proportion of images produced in the past and the future was interdependent and was accounted by age and individual differences in temporal perspective.
Taken together, these results indicate that the ability to recall specific autobiographical past events and imagined future events is maintained in young-old, but is impaired when old-old adults are considered. Results are discussed in terms of the more accentuated cognitive decline that occurs in late adulthood.
KeywordsAutobiographic images Aging Episodic future thinking
Part of this research was supported by a grant from the Italian Ministry of Research and Education to the first author (Progetto PRIN: 2008YFTC3C_002).
Conflict of interest
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